Editor's note: This article was originally published in August 2021, and has been updated to reflect our latest impact. 

Ending extreme poverty is not a simple or straightforward mission. At Global Citizen we take on uncomfortable conversations that address the world's biggest systemic challenges. We engage in dialogue with governments, businesses, and philanthropists, often to create change at scale and uproot systems that have been in place for decades.

And we are ultimately accountable to the Global Citizens who make up this movement, which requires transparency in our impact measurement. Reporting back to Global Citizens on the power and impact of their voices sits at the heart of the organization’s mission: it’s a process that underpins our core campaigning and is fundamental to building and sustaining support for this important work.

That’s why Global Citizen's dedicated impact team tracks impact long before commitments are announced on our stages, and continues long after promises have been fulfilled.

Here, Global Citizen's Impact Director James Salazar responds to some of the most common questions we get about our model and how we work, and the crucial role that civil society plays more broadly in the fight against extreme poverty. 

Why does our advocacy matter?

In a perfect world there would be no need for galvanising public support around specific solutions to address extreme poverty, because basic needs and fundamental rights of all people would be met and respected.

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which, in many countries, it's not politically expedient or popular to address the causes of extreme poverty. If it were, extreme poverty would already be a distant memory. That's why Global Citizen was established: to make sure that what isn’t necessarily considered a priority, resonates with and does get prioritized among those in power.

How does Global Citizen drive impact?

Global Citizen drives impact in two ways: applying pressure towards those in power to both make and deliver on the commitments addressing extreme poverty requires; and building platforms that amplify the work of partners and organizations on the front lines of the fight against extreme poverty.

This approach is rooted in our belief that civil society has a legitimate role to play in the public policymaking process and that advocates and especially representatives of vulnerable communities should be able to raise their collective voices and participate.

  • Driving pressure at its core: Global Citizen is a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to take a range of actions around key issues toward ending extreme poverty. To support the calls-to-action from these engaged citizens, our in-house team of advocates engage with government officials and corporate leaders, host roundtable discussions with key stakeholders, work with some of the world's biggest musicians and actors, and amplify our voices in the media and through our powerful content creation department.
  • Building platforms: We leverage our platforms, including festivals, broadcasts, live streams, and the Global Citizen app, to ensure that governments, businesses, and philanthropists prioritize issues facing the world’s poor and commit to actions that will help defeat poverty and defend the planet. Ultimately, their commitments are just the first step. Without massive sustained pressure and advocacy, we’re not going to end extreme poverty and act for the planet before it is too late. Holding leaders accountable is critical to make sure they deliver on their promises. Sustained pressure comes from many different places and only by exhausting every lever of advocacy can we ensure fulfillment of our mission. When Global Citizen events are over and people go home, the real questions that matter are what becomes of the commitment and whether it contributes towards the relief of poverty. It’s here that our work is just as important and impactful in the long run. And it’s necessary in order to honor the hard work of Global Citizens, advocates, and organizations so that the promises made are honored by commitment makers.

How does Global Citizen partner with advocates and organizations to create pressure?

Advocacy involves the hard work of numerous advocates and organizations worldwide through a range of methods that, when combined, can achieve a common goal. That’s why Global Citizen has been proud to partner with, learn from, and shine a spotlight on, some of the leading organizations and grassroots activists working to fight extreme poverty, ranging from global experts to local partners.

Some of the organizations Global Citizen partnered with in 2021 include: The World Health Organization; Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research; The International Fund for Agricultural Development; World Food Programme; Re: Wild; Education Cannot Wait; Green Climate Fund; Global Access Fund; Local Initiatives Support Corporation; The Legal Empowerment Network; Outright Action International; and The United Nations Population Fund.

Where does Global Citizen focus its efforts?

Our mission requires work at the global and local levels. Global Citizen’s advocacy targets donor countries and global South countries alike. Their contributions are different — certain issues require domestic action, while others demand a coordinated regional or global effort. We build relationships with partners, governments, advocates, and stakeholders at all these levels to ensure our impact and accountability processes are relevant to each market.

Some of the deepest and most meaningful engagement that we have seen has been by citizens in India, South Africa, Nigeria, and Brazil. Across these countries, citizens have shown passion and deep engagement with our advocacy, actions, content, and events.

Why does Global Citizen release impact reports?

We report on our impact because it’s a fundamental responsibility for any organization giving a platform to governments, businesses, and decisionmakers to ensure that their promises are kept. By reporting back on progress, we create trust in our activism and advocacy model, as well as legitimacy for our mission, calls-to-action, and campaigning.

We monitor and then celebrate the promises made on our stage, showcasing the organizations whose daily work impacts millions of lives. Over the past decade, billions of dollars in commitments have been announced on our global stages as a result of the collective efforts of citizen advocates and frontline organizations.

Our reporting honors the work that is necessary to our mission. Commitments announced as part of our campaigns become subject to our accountability and reporting process, which ensures that we hold commitment-makers and beneficiaries to their word, no matter if our role in securing that pledge is large or small. For example, the latest impact report from One World: Together At home highlights how commitments announced through the campaign ultimately helped 140 local organizations around the world respond to COVID-19.

Why does Global Citizen celebrate progress when there is still so much work to be done?

Impact tracking allows us to celebrate accomplishments both large and small. It keeps our most ardent supporters engaged, giving them hope and encouragement that change is possible. And it also allows us to push back against apathy and indifference to show that we can and must change the world for the better. Every step forward is a step closer to the end of extreme poverty.

How do you know your advocacy has had an impact on those in power?

Advocacy is inherently about pressuring those in positions of power to do things they don’t necessarily want to do. If the end result of this work drives impact, then we have succeeded. Sometimes that means advocates won’t be credited for their role. And that’s ok. Global Citizen wasn’t established to win applause from those in power, but to amplify and support the voices of those challenging the structures that prevent people from lifting themselves out of extreme poverty.

We’re thrilled where our platforms are used to drive impact irrespective of where credit is assigned. To find out what’s been most impactful and helpful, we’ll ask frontline organizations, partners, or beneficiaries about the value of the pressure and platforms we’ve helped generate and build. In the end, we’re trying to determine how we made a difference, to inform Global Citizens everywhere of the power of their voices, and improve our collective impact in the future.

For example, together with advocates in Canada, Global Citizen helped push the Canadian government to announce additional funding for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Does Global Citizen follow up with those in power?

Yes. Often our in-house team of advocates will reach out directly to leaders in government and business to understand what influenced their decision to do something so we can learn what influences decision-makers. This process of learning is part of the never-ending journey of advocacy. We’ll also reach out to decision-makers directly if we have access to follow up on commitments, especially if we haven’t heard back or progress is lacking.

How does Global Citizen work to ensure those in power follow through on promises made?

Our dedicated impact team spends countless hours in conversation with commitment-makers and policy partners before and after every campaign and pledging event. We discuss the details of each commitment, including distribution of funds, timing, and recipients. During a decade of these conversations we have learned the hard way that language, which often seems like splitting hairs, does in fact matter greatly. It can affect the whole meaning of a commitment and ultimately its impact. This is also another point in the process where we can apply pressure on commitment-makers and demand more. Examples include more vaccine doses, faster disbursement of funds to beneficiaries, and more funding in general.

The impact team also supplements information from commitment-makers, partners, and beneficiaries with our own research in order to capture the broader context of each commitment and announcement to make sure it is in the spirit of our objectives. By setting expectations early, finalizing details in advance, and conducting outside research, we are able set expectations and ensure that we are able to follow up with relevant stakeholders in a timely manner and report back on the impact of each and every commitment.

Global Citizen's 2021 Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 impact report is an example of how we follow the delivery of commitments announced at our events.

Does Global Citizen verify what those in power report back?

Yes. We don’t just take commitment-makers' word. We speak with beneficiary organizations and our policy partners and ask questions. Has money been delivered? Where has the money gone? What are the specific programs that the funding went to? What countries or communities did the commitments go to? Is this commitment still on schedule? And if we don’t get the updates we need, we don’t sit idly by waiting on information that may never come. Sometimes we initiate public actions with the support of Global Citizens or we lean on our relationships with musicians to apply public pressure.

Sometimes we hunt down new contacts online, or coordinate with partners to align on a common strategy. Sometimes, just good old-fashioned research can get us the answers we need. Holding decision-makers accountable is often a multifaceted process, but the one thing that holds true with all of our commitments: we exhaust every option until we get answers.

Persistence is everything.

One example is how a commitment announced on Global Citizen’s stage helped Jee, an 11-year-old Thai student, receive a month of meals.

What happens when promises are not kept?

Over the last decade, hundreds of commitments have been announced on the Global Citizen platforms. Though we always assess the feasibility of each commitment before they are announced, governments change, pandemics reshape everything, and promises may go unfulfilled. Occasionally, governments and businesses will rescind their commitments without reason, walking away from those who need their help most; or they may go silent, unwilling to provide updates on their progress.

This is an unfortunate and painful reality of advocacy, but that doesn’t mean we simply accept defeat. In these circumstances, Global Citizen pursues a range of public and behind-the-scenes strategies to call these commitment-makers out, reminding them of the promises they made to Global Citizens and those in need. We may not always be successful in reversing a failed promise, but we won’t shy away from highlighting the failures of those in power.

One example is the story of how Global Citizen continued to call attention to the unequal rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, including to the Pacific Islands.

Why is it important to hold those in power accountable for the promises they make?

Advocacy efforts and societal progress can often be characterized as being two steps forward and one step back. It’s a hard truth that real, lasting, and significant change through advocacy work is hard. The fact that it is hard though proves the vital necessity of the role advocacy plays in society. If it were easy and promises were kept, there would not be a need for advocates to generate pressure and build platforms.

However, it’s when commitments are not made or promises broken — whether that be related to donated COVID-19 vaccines or the climate crisis — that’s when advocacy is needed more than ever. It's also why accountability is so key to effective delivery of programs, services, and laws meant for the public benefit.

Governments and institutions often have competing interests. Even when one leader wants to do the right thing, there are often competing pressures that push leaders to focus their efforts elsewhere. Accountability is about ensuring the success of those advocacy wins are more than just broken promises. Advocacy requires persistence. If you’re lucky enough to see your efforts manifest in a policy breakthrough, such as a promise to increase funding on a long-neglected issue or the passage of reforming legislation, the work is far from over.

How can we improve our ability to pressure those in power?

There is always a struggle between attribution over contribution when it comes to looking at the value of advocacy, and this debate can go on. What matters most is driving impact and addressing inequities in the world, and we’re always trying to learn more about how we can have the greatest impact.

This is ultimately what we’re trying to achieve through tracking and reporting our work. The fact that effective advocacy bears sustained fruit only over the long-term also shows why humility in advocacy is also so important. The impact team at Global Citizen is the first to admit that our processes will never fully capture the scope of the work that we highlight on our stage or the results of the demands we make on decision-makers in the government and the private sector. The challenges of measuring the advocacy and the impact of the work of countless people and organizations are not insurmountable.

After all, advocacy isn’t formulaic, striving towards transparency, portraying the most accurate picture of our efforts, and the showcasing outcome of that advocacy is what it comes down to. That’s why we are constantly looking to improve our model, based on the best practices of other organizations and through regular internal reassessments of its own processes. We are always looking for strategies and opportunities to strengthen the rigor and sophistication of our approach to generate pressure and build platforms. Reevaluation and ever increasing rigor is a commitment Global Citizen takes seriously.

We consider it absolutely necessary in order to better advocate for those facing extreme poverty. Find out more here about how Global Citizen tracks impact and accountability


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